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Local charities benefit from Pens Foundation 50/50 Raffle

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

Earlier this week, Clint Hurdle stopped by the Penguins locker room during an off day in the midst of the Pirates' busy schedule for a special visit.

He was there on behalf of the Prader-Willi Syndrome Association to accept a check from the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation for a cause that is personal to him, as his teenage daughter Maddie was diagnosed with the genetic disorder when she was born.

"We are so very thankful and grateful," Hurdle said. "Not just for the Penguins Foundation, but for the people who are involved in Maddie's life. They care about Maddie. They don't care that her dad is the manager for the Pirates. It's what you all do to help, raise awareness, provide funding. It's another way we've been humbled by the love and support that we have in our great community here in Pittsburgh."

The Prader-Willi Syndrome Association is just one of 63 local charities who were selected by the Penguins Foundation to receive grants from funds collected through the 50/50 Raffle during Penguins home games. This year, the Penguins Foundation is donating $900,000.

"Any time we go to an event now, we pour money into the 50/50 because we know it's going to go to a good place," Hurdle said. 

The 50/50 Raffle Grants, which have been awarded since 2012, are given out twice a year - once in February and once at the conclusion of the Penguins' season. Over the past three days, many of the groups visited PPG Paints Arena to receive their checks. 

"This is probably the most exciting time of the year for the Foundation," said Dave Soltesz, president of the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation. "All year long, we conduct the 50/50 Raffle and now we get to read the grants and award these grants."

The organizations chosen are unique because they are smaller, grass-roots organizations based in the Greater Pittsburgh area that share the Foundation's vision - Kids are the Future - and are hugely impacted by the funds they receive. 

"We select the grants based on merit and then we talk to people," Soltesz said. "What are you doing? What are you using the money for? You can tell the passion that these people have about their cause. Then you ask them, what would you do if you had more money? And their eyes light up. 

"That's how we find a lot of the folks who benefit from the 50/50 and the grants. And most importantly, those are the people we look to support and build the programs we sponsor and support."

For example, Beverly's Birthdays is a non-profit that provides birthday cheer for children experiencing homelessness and families in need. Through this grant, the Penguins Foundation helps support their program Classroom Cheer. The program provides teachers in low-income elementary and primary schools throughout the Greater Pittsburgh region with their own Classroom Cheer Kit, which contains everything a teacher would need to recognize their students' birthdays.

"Through their gift each year the Penguins Foundation sponsors five of those schools," said Megs Yunn, executive director and founder of Beverly's Birthdays. "So that's roughly around 3,000 children that are directly having a happy classroom birthday."

While the Penguins Foundation has worked with Beverly's Birthdays for a while now, the Beaver County Humane Society received a grant for the first time this year. They brought two puppies to the rink for the check presentation, and plan on naming them after Penguins players.

"We're very excited to be the recipient of this very, very generous grant from the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation," said Susan Salyards, executive director of the Beaver County Humane Society. "The grant is earmarked for our Humane Education Program. We have different types of education programs that happen throughout the year. Coming up soon will be a summer camp program for kids, so it will be used to help supplement those efforts of our wonderful volunteers."

While the Penguins Foundation presents the checks, it's the fans who make it all possible through their support of the 50/50 Raffle. When a fan walks the arena for a Penguins game and purchases any number of tickets from one of the kiosks or volunteers stationed on the concourse, they're giving back to the community in so many ways.

"We want to say thank you to all the Pittsburgh Penguins fans," said Chrisarah Johnson, program director for the Children's Sickle Cell Foundation. "They're some of the top fans in the city and they do wonderful things by supporting not only us through this raffle, but all of the charity organizations that are benefitting. That's the beauty of the raffle, is that it's not just for one organization, it's for kids across the region."

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